Childbirth classes: Should you take one?

Mar 29, 2013 at 2:00 p.m. ET

Pregnant and getting ready for birth? Childbirth education is an important part of preparation. But, it's not as simple as just signing up for a class. There are different methods that encompass different ways of looking at birth.

Childbirth class

Whether you are looking for a technique that focuses on a partnership and breathing techniques, a method that prepares you for natural birthing or a method that taps into a woman's ability to visualize and distract her way through birth, there is a birth method for you. How important are childbirth classes?

Preparation is key

"I found that the people who took classes were much more prepared for childbirth," said childbirth educator Shari Criso, who used to have a midwifery practice. "Being prepared made the experience better for them... fear really causes more pain. The absence of knowledge causes more fear." Criso says that childbirth education classes demystify birthing, preparing moms for the unknown birth process.

There are many classes and methods available. The methods touch on different manners of letting go because labor is one of those times where you can't control it. "Labor is not about taking control, it's about letting go," said Criso.

Here are some of the most popular ones.

Lamaze Method

When you think of childbirth classes, Lamaze is probably the first you think of. The method, created by Dr. Fernand Lamaze in 1951, combines childbirth education, breathing techniques (the hee-hee, hoo-hoo breathing you probably have seen in movies and on television) and constant emotional support from a partner.

It's important to note that Lamaze, once known for the breathing, has expanded its focus to encompass more education focusing around pregnancy and childbirth. On average, Lamaze classes last on average about six weeks.

"As a leader in educating women about the mental and physical transitions they will undergo during pregnancy and postpartum, Lamaze International believes a series of childbirth education classes can be vital in preparing new moms," said Lamaze International President Allison J. Walsh, IBCLC, LCCE, FACCE. "Classes can empower women to have positive birth experiences and be informed about early parenthood challenges such as breastfeeding, handling fatigue and infant care."

Bradley Method

The Bradley Method teaches birth as a natural process where the mother focuses on relaxation. The Bradley Method is about being self-aware and knowing that the body can handle the process. Both the mother and a partner play important roles in this method.

According to, more than 86 percent of moms who take Bradley classes go on to have a medication-free childbirth. It was developed in the 1940s by Dr. Robert Bradley and is a 12-week program.

"I learned really powerful relaxation methods that I still use to this day, over seven years later. I use them at the dentist, on turbulent airline flights, when my kids are insane and so on," says mom Danielle Wylie of "The focus on nutrition was amazing. Most doctors don't know a lot about pregnancy nutrition, but the Bradley Method places a huge focus on it. I learned to eat high levels of protein. I increased my veggie intake. Most memorably, I learned that if I HAVE to have chocolate, I should opt for a Snickers, because then I at least get the protein from the peanuts."

HypnoBirthing Method

Also known as the Mongan Method, HypnoBirthing is based on the work of Dr. Grantly Dick-Read who purported the idea of natural birthing in the 1920s, based on a centuries-old philosophy of birthing. Techniques used in HypnoBirthing include visualization, self-hypnosis and relaxation. Although it doesn't promise a pain-free birth, the technique does promote calmness and serenity in birthing.

Criso used HypnoBirthing with her children. "I really like hypnobirthing — I did it with my children," she said. "I just felt like it was the one method that focused on relaxation the most."

Coincidentally, the childbirth class that Criso developed with her husband, called Childbirth Without Fear, is based on Dick-Read's methodology. It begins with mental preparation for birth and continues with physical preparation. Taught by both a husband and wife, the class uniquely touches on both the father and mother's needs during birth. It's available at Criso's store, The Birth Boutique in Denville, New Jersey.

More on childbirth

Home birthing celebrities
Dangerous birth: Is childbirth becoming over-medicalized?
Benefits of natural childbirth